The “X” prequel showcases Mia Goth’s talents
The COVID-19 pandemic forced many filmmakers to get creative with their productions. Ti West, decided to shoot two connected horror films at the same time. The first came out in spring titled X (2022), while the second one, a prequel, has come out now, titled Pearl (2022).
Pearl takes place in 1918, decades before the 1970s-set X. We follow Pearl (Mia Goth), who would later become the elderly serial-killer in X. Pearl lives on a rural farm, feeling held-back and repressed by her infirm father (Matthew Sunderland) and stern mother (Tandi Wright). She longs to become a dancing movie star. This ambition is paired with her slow descent into the use of violence for her aims.
X was an homage to the slasher subgenre, following beats predictably, yet delivering on promised gore. Pearl is a character study, by contrast, and director Ti West is much more focused in showing the descent into irrational madness and bloodlust of his titular character. Pearl was written by West and star Mia Goth while waiting in quarantine to start filming X. The collaboration between lead-actress and director, helps Pearl play to Goth’s strengths. Goth chews up the scenery, completely in control of the narrative as well as its subtle beats. The confidence in the creative process is clearly indicated by West’s use of long takes that Goth absolutely nails. The former model-turned-actress delivers her best performance yet and showcases a formidable talent waiting to be further exploited.
West crafts Pearl as meticulously and compactly as X. Each shot and edit are used to further the narrative or thematic elements of the film, and West keeps a steady, rolling pace, which in character dramas is hard to maintain. West does hold back on the horror and violence in Pearl, but only long enough so that when the blood begins to splatter, it bursts with more intensity for viewers.
The director and lead-actress pairing works to perfection, however, the story struggles to justify itself as a feature length film. Despite West maintaining a steady rhythm, Pearl can’t seem to shake off the fact that it feels like a writing exercise done in COVID-19 to produce work for its creatives. There is no sense of urgency in telling this specific story. Pearl would certainly struggle to push viewers’ curiosity without the supporting context of X. Given the rather strange nature of the eponymous lead character, Pearl could easily have become a slog, but Goth’s masterful lead performance is able to bring a blurred instability to the core story, which helps keeps her scenes tense.
In the end, Pearl works well as a companion piece to X, and proves to be a showcase for its lead actress’ talents. West and Goth pull off an interesting creative exercise, though it never transcends into feeling like anything more. Nevertheless, it’s always enjoyable to see a character study featuring a slow descent into madness.